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Shades of Fear Reviews

Not even a powerhouse cast can enliven this made-for-British television drama, a lugubrious love story-cum-mystery about the intertwining destinies of five passengers on a cruise ship in the 1950s. Gabriel Angel (Rakie Ayola), a young woman from the Caribbean with a passion for flying, heads for England, where she plans to become a pilot. Upon boarding the departing ship, she discovers that she and a Scotsman named Duncan Stewart (Jonathan Pryce) have been assigned to the same room. Since the ship is booked, they decide to share the room and pose as husband and wife to avoid gossip. Duncan and Gabriel introduce themselves to several fellow passengers: roommates Gwendoline Quim (Dorothy Tutin) and Dr. Angela Bead (Vanessa Redgrave), who are returning to England after years of missionary work; and Prof. Rex Goodyear (John Hurt), a famous art historian who is obsessed with exposing forgers. When Rex notices a striking resemblance between Duncan and an art forger named Allistair Birch, he decides to intimidate Duncan psychologically in an effort to get him to admit his identity. Duncan denies these claims, but Rex persists. Meanwhile, Gabriel finds herself falling in love with Duncan, and he with her. Duncan finally admits that he is Birch, the forger--and that he also had an affair with Rex's wife. But Rex drops another bombshell: Allistair also murdered his wife. Meanwhile, back in their cabin, Gwen and Angela reveal their love for each other. The women kiss passionately and vow to begin a new life together. Rex and Duncan confront each other with the truth: Rex's wife was stabbed accidentally by the both of them during an altercation on the boat. Duncan comes to an understanding with Rex and starts a new life with Gabriel. Originally titled "Great Moments In Aviation," SHADES OF FEAR reunites screenwriter Jeanette Winterson and director Beeban Kidron, the same team responsible for the far superior made-for-British television drama ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT (1989). SHADES OF FEAR seems caught between several genres: Kidron deftly builds suspense and foreboding, particularly in the confrontations between Duncan and Rex, but then abruptly cuts to whimsical flashbacks of Gabriel's childhood which are bathed in a weird orange light. Kidron has at her disposal a mouth-watering British cast, yet her direction is so passionless and dreary that the actors are wasted. Winterson's weak script leaves too many gaps and unanswered questions, particularly regarding the film's two major romances. Though Pryce and Ayola provide some real heat, the interracial aspect of their characters' relationship is never addressed, while the relationship between Gwen and Angela--one of the film's pleasantly surprising twists--is nearly washed overboard before it even develops. In their big revelatory scene, Redgrave and Tutin make marvelous use of the confined cabin space, beautifully symbolizing repressed feelings and blossoming love. But, once they leave the room, Kidron practically forgets about them altogether. That's one of the film's biggest mysteries. (Sexual situations, nudity.)